So, here's a story about Hermione, Fleur, dreams and spells. It takes place after Witnessed Here in Time and Blood, which you may read first, if you wish. It is, however, very long. If you skip it, I won't be offended but you're then not allowed to complain (too vigorously) about spoilers or general befuddlement.
More importantly, this story features characters and concepts borrowed from JK Rowling. I'm only taking them for a short spin and own nothing. It also features characters and concepts from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. This takes place after the series so I'm now giving a proper SPOILER warning. The Sandman is an incredibly good tale and it'd be a shame and probably heresy if you were spoiled for it by reading my little fanfic.
So, SPOILERS for The Sandman. Please proceed cautiously. This whole story will take a while to post so why not go read it first? Libraries are your friend.
Still with me? Sounds like your cup of tea? Right. Good. On with the show!
In the northern most reaches of Scotland, there is a castle. When mundane eyes, like yours or mine, chance upon it they perceive nothing other than a forbidding ruin. It sits in desolation, nameless and abandoned as time pulls it asunder. The stones from the highest spires topple and sink themselves in boggy earth. Vast courtyards paved with broken flag stones vanish beneath dead leaves and deep cushions of moss. Water falls over rotten rafters, staining ancient wood and puddling in musty corners. Dark mirrors for a grey sky amongst broken glass and cracked delph.
This nameless ruin stands in sprawling, wild grounds. Over-grown hedges and trees bar entrance to the weedy, rush filled fields surrounding the place. Jackdaws roost in weathered pine trees and cough as they guard the bleak bent land. Mist rolls off a mountain lake and chills marrow in the bone. The sun never seems to shine there, not even during the height of summer.
On the rare occasion that a hiker or fowler approaches, they find themselves come to an unintentional stop. There is a certain dread there, though there is nothing about the place to suggest ghosts or battles long since fought. They feel some instinct, deep within the pit of their gut, that tells them to leave. Something tells them that they are most emphatically unwelcome. They wear a uniform expression, if one were to spy them, of puzzlement and distaste. Invariably, they move on. Scotland doesn't lack other, friendlier castles and lakes, after all. Most of them forget the place as soon as they turn their back.
But on the odd occasion, some rare folk will revisit that high, wild place in their dreams. Summer sunlight blazes from a cloudless sky. Songbirds thrill from neat hedges and fruitful orchards as you move forward from where before you stopped. A whistle shrieks, then the panting chug of a steam engine. A scarlet train, white steam and sparks billowing from the smoke stack, whizzes past. Golden fixtures and letters gleam in the sunlight and laughing school children wave at you from carriages. Following the train with your eyes, it crosses lush meadows dotted with plump Friesian cows lowing moodily at the disruption.
It heads towards a distant station and you, the dreamer, move onwards. The lake appears before you, now a polished mirror for the perfect sky. Lush reeds and yellow flowers sway in the warm, fragrant breeze. Onwards again and a forest comes into view. Ancient in a way you thought impossible in Britain, trees bearing every shade of green crowd together, raising a great susurrant voice. Birds wheel above and deer lift their wary heads beneath shaded eaves. It is not a friendly place, or a human place, but the wise dreamer recognises that it is an important place. That it protects secrets that would burn to ash in the cold light of reason.
Few have spoken of the castle upon waking. How its towers rise proudly, coloured banners fluttering from their peaks. How stained glass winks in the sun. How, even from a great distance, polished brass shines with honed lustre. It is, in every way you ever imagined, a fairy tale castle. There is the tower that holds the princess. There is the battlement that houses eagle eyed archers. There is the stone road that bears a score of proud knights to battle. There is the crooked mage's tower, no doubt containing a wise sorcerer. It is something you will never speak about, for how does one translate such a perfect dream into waking words? How does one capture such splendour in daylight's clumsy language?
As you feel the tug of wakefulness, details suddenly swell before your eyes, sharp and clear. A row of greenhouses, neat and redolent with the deep scent of compost. A herb garden on a stone terrace where a wizened chef plucks rosemary. A hut beneath the trees, door open in the summer warmth where a wild man sits smoking beside an immense dog. A strange sports field, sand and grass unsullied beneath tall poles. A white cottage tucked into the slope of the hill.
Even as you try to grip these scenes, they slip from your desperate grasp. Birdsong harshens to the call of crows. The sun fades. The castle slips into ruin and the little houses sag beneath the weight of long years of neglect. The warmth of the sun is lost.
You awaken then, discomfited and lonesome. For a brief moment, you remember that there is a world of castles and gleaming steam engines. A place where the taste of magic is thick in the air and impossible fantasy is as matter of fact as a herd of cattle. In the dark of your bed (or the light of a lamp); in solitude (or beside another); in waking (though you try to cling to sleep) you see a world of magic.
Chasing the sadness from your heart, chasing the memory of wet, dead grass on a muddy moor before an abandoned castle, you turn beneath your blanket. You feel ridiculous for feeling so lonesome over a dream. It's only a dream, you tell yourself. It's not real. Nothing to lament. Only a dream.
As you try to sink back into sleep, you scoff at that childish part of you, that still yearns for castles and magic. It's not real. Only a dream.
But the oldest part of you knows a lie, especially one told with such a lack of conviction.
Because what defines reality, if not our dreams?
Ivory and Horn: Chapter One
Hermione Granger woke to darkness. She blinked blearily and stifled a yawn, peering up with unfocused eyes. Her vision was slow to pierce the sooty depths of the room but eventually, a faint rim of grey light resolved itself on the wall. She arched her back and the memory came of her lover, Fleur Delacour, throwing a towel over the bare curtain pole, grumbling about the fact that her mother had not yet sent a promised pair of drapes. She smiled and turned her face towards the other woman, listening to her slow, even breathing.
There was no hint of dawn to betray Fleur's form beside her, so early was the hour. There was no birdsong to compete with her quiet respiration, either. Hermione lay with her cheek against her pillow, listening carefully. Fleur was close to her, their legs brushing together. The sheets were warm, heat radiating from Fleur's bare skin. Earlier, she'd gone to sleep curled on her side, facing Fleur as she'd fondly traced a line from her hip to ribs and back again.
She reached out, laying the back of her hand carefully against Fleur, not keen to wake the other witch. Her hand was lifted with each breath and Hermione drew comfort from the contact. She moved her shoulders, burrowing into the mattress and stared up at the ceiling. Well, she presumed she was staring at the ceiling. She drew the sheet around herself, feeling rather daring for sleeping nude but also a bit chilled. The comforter was long gone, kicked to the floor hours previous and she made no move to retrieve it.
The gamekeeper's Cottage (known as The Cottage-Under-Ha) creaked a bit, settling and cooling around them. An owl called to the night and some other variety of bird honked tonelessly in affront. She frowned, wondering what had stirred her. Dawn was hours away and nothing in the waking world seemed to demand her attention. She closed her eyes and tried to remember if she'd been dreaming. She had the kind of uneasy, queasy feeling that accompanied the aftermath of nightmares but couldn't recall any. She was, however, wide awake and held little desire to sleep again. Fleur sighed in her sleep and Hermione felt a stab of loneliness. How strange, to find such isolation despite being so close to another!
Perhaps Fleur would awaken, too. Maybe they'd whisper together in the dark and share secrets as the whole world lay sleeping. Maybe Fleur would curl around her again, cradling her with arms, legs and body until they drifted back to sleep. Maybe they'd make love again.
She felt a small stab of guilt. Fleur was tired and needed the rest more than she herself needed to be entertained through the depths of night. She had, after all, spent the previous few days moving into, and undertaking repair of, the cottage. The little house had laid empty since Wilfang Ogg had retired several decades previous and had thus been in dire need of a decent cleaning. But Fleur seemed cheerful, delighted by the challenge and had thrown herself into the task with gusto. She'd even cooked a small meal to celebrate Hermione's visit.
She smiled to herself in the darkness and moved just a bit closer to Fleur, pulling the sheet from between them and allowing the other woman's warmth to seep into her. She closed her eyes and consciously slowed her breath, willing herself to return to sleep. To drift off into peaceful slumber beside her lover. To join her as she slept.
Fleur shifted closer, her warm breath falling on Hermione's shoulder. She made a contented, dreamy kind of sound and then lay still. Hermione's hand was trapped between them and she moved her fingers idly, tracing the shallow depression between two ribs. Fleur slept on, her presence welcome despite the pang of loneliness it aroused.
If only we could meet in dreams again, like we did before.
It was a sleepy, throwaway thought. As Hermione sank through the layers of waking and dozing and half waking, her thoughts slowed and seemed to fragment, drifting from her like leaves on water. She felt a memory flutter down, surprising her. She hadn't recalled enough of it to realise she'd ever forgotten it.
I've been here before.
On the shores of night, caught between memory and waking thought, Hermione dreamed.
The first time it happened, she thought nothing of it
The sand beneath her was cold to the touch, damp and clinging. She pushed herself up and stood, dusting off her hands. She realised that she was standing on the same bank she'd once shared with Fleur, though it was dark and cold. The little stream burbled before her, clear water running over tumble smooth stones. The tree behind her was dark and leafless, forbidding and solemn in the airless silence surrounding her. She cast her eyes about, knowing with strange certainty that Fleur was meant to be with her in that place.
There was no life in the grove; it was as though winter had claimed it already, shaking leaves from the trees and chilling the air. The silence was eerie too, almost stinging in its intensity, broken only by the gushing music of water. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked around again, though the scene had not changed. Unhappy and bewildered, she decided to move. She began to walk, following the flow of water. With no colour to reflect, it was perfectly clear and appeared fresh, as though awaiting the resumption of spring life.
She walked. The stream gurgled beside her, running over rounded stones and tripping down short falls. The trees gave way after a short distance and the silver sky seemed to stretch, smothering the horizon and stealing the substance from the land around her. It was as though the world was vanishing, fading at the edges and leeching into oblivion. But the stream still flowed and she knew that streams had to empty into something. So on she walked.
Time must have passed, though she could not count its beats, because she found herself in a new place, now. The edges of the world sharpened, coming back into focus. The burn darted down an incline to one side, while a small hill rose to the other. She left the stream and ascended, calmly regarding the strange, silent world around her. The sound of water over stone remained with her, though, and she found comfort in the familiarity. Soon she came to the top of the little hill and paused, gazing out around her.
The land before her was vast. It stretched from one horizon to the other, hazy mountain peaks visible at the limits of her sight. It was barren, though. A dead land. Tree trunks were scattered around, some surrounded by shattered, splintered branches. Hermione turned in a circle, wondering calmly where she was and what she was supposed to be doing. The sky was grey overhead, the clouds so flat they were almost impossible to discern. No wind blew. No sound disturbed the silence, bar the music of the stream.
A glint of light drew her attention and she found herself moving towards it, in the purposeful but detached manner commonly seen in dreams. The ground was quite dusty underfoot, as though no rain fell in this place. She passed empty campfires, grey pits filled with cold ash. The flash of light that drew her sparkled close now and she stooped, lifting a dusty bottle from the ground. It was empty and, sadly, did not bear a label or contain any kind of message. She peered at it for a moment before remembering.
The stream flowed into a river. The river passed beneath a bridge. Once, when she was a girl, she'd stood on that bridge for… something.
"I'm dreaming," she whispered, setting the bottle back down. As she did, she disturbed a little pile of dust and, to her surprise, a shoot was revealed. Shining, a pair of dark green leaves gleaming in the dim light, it was the last thing she saw before she felt herself pulled awake.
She woke in a Way House, in a remote part of France.
Fleur Delacour rubbed the sand from her eyes and stifled a yawn. Bright August light crept in where her makeshift curtains had failed, allowing her to locate her slippers and a dressing gown without undue fuss. She turned to her lover, sitting on the edge of the bed as she blinked the last remnants of her night's rest away.
Hermione was supine, one hand curled into a loose fist behind her head. Her hair was spread over her pillow and much of Fleur's, dark against the pale sheets. Her lips were parted and her eyelashes fluttered. Fleur smiled at the sight, charmed by the tiny sounds she made as she slept. She leaned over the edge of the bed, gathering the duvet and spreading it over her peaceful lover. Hermione didn't budge and Fleur stifled a giggle.
Tired out, are we?
Feeling rather proud of her prowess, Fleur exited the small bedroom and made for the kitchen. The Cottage-under-Ha was small, much smaller than Shell Cottage. The little bungalow boasted a grand total of four rooms, these being the kitchen, the parlour, the bedroom and a small bathroom. Tiny though it was, it seemed more than adequate for one person and Fleur was quite delighted with her new lodgings.
"Bonjour, Crookshanks," she called, grinning at the enormous cat sprawled out on the comfier of two armchairs. He opened one baleful eye and regarded her for a moment before yawning and settling back down to sleep.
"Mais, quelles creatures paresseusus!" she huffed playfully, flicking her wand at the ashes in the stove. "Je suis tout seul, ce matin."
The cinders trembled in the grate, the few remaining coals shaking themselves free of their rind and flaring back to life. A little cloud of ash floated up and out, heading for a metal bucket beside the back door. Another flick of her wand and several blocks of dry wood leapt into the grate, the last politely closing the door after itself. Fleur tugged the damper open and turned to fill a percolator, craving a cup of coffee.
So I'm not entirely Anglified yet, then.
She yawned again and wandered to the little table, picking up her To Do List and scowling briefly at it. How was it that one could spend an entire week completely busy and yet still have at least six inches worth of tasks to achieve? She spied several jobs in Hermione's neat, small cursive and frowned, wondering why on earth she needed to evict the poor bats from the attic.
After all, they had a much better claim to the place than she did.
The percolator was beginning to make soft noises and Fleur rooted around for her good saucepan and the porridge, humming as she went.
She had a long day ahead of her, she mused. While the interior of the cottage was more or less acceptable (she wouldn't have invited Hermione over otherwise) the outside was in sore need of attention. The mortar was crumbling in places, largely thanks to the heavy, damp ivy mantles that had matured during years of neglect. The thatch was also quite ragged but Hagrid had promised to come and help with that.
Milk splashed into the pot and a spoon got to stirring. Fleur grimaced a bit. She wasn't Rubeus Hagrid's biggest fan but she suspected they'd be working closely together in the coming months. She knew there was no harm in the giant, and that her beloved headmistress was quite fond of him, but she still sometimes dreamed about Mad Eye Moody, screaming as he fought desperately. Silent as he fell.
She doubted she would ever forget his enchanted eye rolling uselessly in his skull, flickering about even as he tumbled, dead and limp through the air.
She shook her head, dislodging the unhappy memory and pouring a mug of coffee. Given what they now knew of Snape's continued loyalty, it seemed unlikely that poor Hagrid had been the source of the leak at all. She sighed, unwilling to dwell on memories of the past.
To Do List. Ivy to remove. Whitewash. Shutters to be repaired. A girlfriend to negotiate with regarding bats.
She bit her lip. She tried to keep the grin from splitting her face.
Hermione Jean Granger was her girlfriend.
The second time it happened, she thought it was the engines
Hermione shielded her eyes against a blinding glare, wincing as her vision blanched. Wind whispered around her and her feet felt strangely cold. Eventually, she was able to peer out through carefully squinted eyelids.
The world around her was shockingly blue above and incredibly white below. She gasped when she realised that her feet were buried in thick, fluffy clouds. Despite looking like cotton wool, however, they were cold and wet. She frowned, blinking still, shielding her eyes with her hand.
The sky above was a deep shade of blue approaching indigo and so rich it appeared woven from velvet. As it fell towards the clouds, it lightened and brightened. Ringed rainbows glittered in the distance and heaped cumulus towers stretched as far as her vision could perceive.
She pressed her feet down, wondering how strong the clouds were and if they would bear her weight for long. She wondered, briefly, if she should move but found herself terrified to lift her feet. She swallowed, peering around.
Cloud and sky. The dome of heaven and quite a lot of weather.
Her train of thought was interrupted when a single, shining fish swam into view before her eyes. Bright green, with iridescent silver flecks dotting it scales and long, flowing fins. It peered at her, staring for a long moment before opening its mouth.
Hermione frowned. Surely there shouldn't have been a bubble?
Another fish, this one smaller and much more ragged in appearance, swam unsteadily into view. Its skin was more or less translucent, its only colour taking its origin from the blue veins beneath its skin. One fin was torn and one eye missing. The green fish glared at the new comer, and Hermione wondered what had annoyed it.
The blue fish swam in an uneven loop around her head, keeping its good eye trained on her. She watched it for a moment before turning her attention to the other fish, who was nipping at her finger.
"Shoo," she chided, frowning. "Please don't try to eat my hands."
"They do that," a panting voice called, from somewhere down and to the right. "But usually with dead people. I don't think these little guppies will make much headway."
Hermione gave a small shriek as dozens and dozens more fish shot out of the cloud around her, moving with great speed. The green and blue fish led the charge, bringing the shoal together. They swam in the air, about ten feet from her and Hermione stood, engrossed.
Sunlight glittered off hundreds of tiny, moving creatures who poured themselves into a ball, moving in complete synchronicity. Their scales shone as they rolled in the air. It was a mesmerising sight. A tight sphere one moment and a fractured spiral the next. Pulsing to some unknown beat and flicking themselves into tight turns.
The blue fish, though, broke away for a moment, hanging still in the air. The panting voice grew nearer, grumbling and miserable. The fish turned its good eye down towards it and then back to her.
In an instant, the shoal vanished. Hermione blinked, wondering how so many fish could coordinate apparation at once.
"I swear," panted the voice, clearly out of breath, "I'm gonna kill her."
Hermione was quite surprised, though she shouldn't have been, to see a dark head pop through the clouds not twenty feet from her. A dog, some sort of black and brown collie, peered around, panting as it threaded water high in the air.
It growled, though Hermione thought it sounded annoyed, rather than angry. It caught sight of her and paddled to her side. As it approached, she reached down and tugged his collar, pulling him up and onto the cloud beside her.
"Thanks, lady," he said, shaking himself vigorously. Thankfully, no water left his coat. Hermione stared at him. He blinked at her, frowning back in the serious way that some dogs do.
"You haven't seen a girl up here, have you?"
"Aside from myself?" she asked, not wanting to be rude. "No, I'm afraid not."
"Ha!" a croaky voice called from above, "some freaking guide dog you are!"
"Shut the hell up," the dog growled at a large, glossy raven. Bright sunlight left his feathers purple, green and shimmering. He landed on the dog's back, clacking his beak with mirth.
"Good work, man. Seriously."
"Can you please piss off, Matthew. I was askin' this lady if she's seen my soon to be ex-mistress."
Matthew, as the raven seemed to be known, canted his head to one side, peering at her with a bright, inky eye.
"A dreamer? You really think she'd have a clue?"
The dog looked at her before chuffing wearily. "Ah, shit. Well, see ya, lady."
The raven took wing with a croaking cough and the dog turned his back, lowering his nose and sniffing. Hermione started forward, before catching herself.
"Wait!" she called. The raven wheeled back, sliding through the air towards her. The dog, however, ignored her entirely. "How do I get out of here?"
"Easy," he cawed. "Just wake up."
She blinked, surprised for half a second before feeling stupid indeed. Of course she was dreaming.
"How do I wake up, then?" she demanded, folding her arms and adopting her firmest tones.
The raven scoffed (which was, she had to admit, an impressive sight to behold). The dog rolled his eyes.
"Listen, you're standing on a cloud. Why don't you try falling?"
As soon as he spoke, she realised with dread that she was standing on a bloody cloud and that clouds generally didn't offer much in the way of sure footing. The world beneath her seemed pulled taut for a moment before the tension snapped. Her stomach was shoved towards her thraot and she began to fall.
"Kid!" the dog called. "Don't worry! It's never the fall that kills you! Just wake up before you land!"
A scream built in her throat, partly fueled by fear and partly anger at being reduced to having to listen to bad advice from a sheep dog.
She woke on an airplane, half way to Australia
Fleur surveyed the scene with a critical eye. The battered wooden table (scrubbed to within an inch of its life three days prior) bore two place settings. Fresh, crumbly brown bread sat beside the butter dish while two bowls awaited porridge. The scent of fresh coffee filled the room, issuing from the softly tooting percolator. She nodded, pleased with the added touch of a flower in a vase.
She tightened her dressing gown and returned to the bedroom, smiling at the sight of Hermione still sleeping peacefully.
It had been two weeks since the other witch had returned from Australia and Fleur counted them among the happiest of her life to date. Despite both of them being very busy, they'd found time to spend together, both alone and with their friends. They'd helped Harry with some of the thousand and one tasks waiting in Grimmauld Place and decorated Hermione's bedroom. They'd gone out for several dinners and visited some fascinating places. They'd spent an entire day in the British museum, wandering the echoing halls and hidden nooks.
They'd passed an evening cuddled together listening to music and a couple more talking. They'd also spent several nights together, exploring each other at leisure and, crucially, without getting sand everywhere. Fleur smiled at the memories and, after adjusting her dressing gown so it gaped open just a bit, sat beside Hermione, laying a hand on the duvet over her belly.
She'd had affairs with women other than Hermione, before the war. She'd delighted in giving them pleasure but had been reluctant to allow the favour returned. Most, she remembered with a flare of hurt, had been all too happy with that arrangement. Hermione, however, was having none of that and took obvious delight in her. She was more playful than her day to day demeanour would suggest and their nights were filled with joy and more than a bit of laughter.
Fleur sighed, wondering how she'd been lucky enough to find herself so blessed. She rubbed Hermione's belly and called her name softly, wishing to wake her as gently as possible. She leaned forward, pressing a kiss to the sleeping witch's forehead, revelling in the scent of her hair.
"Wake up, ma loutre," she laughed, her words mumbling as they tumbled against Hermione's skin. "Breakfast is ready."
Hermione didn't stir and Fleur drew back, an eyebrow raised. Was it a game? She studied her lover, noting the flickering eyelids and her steady respiration. It was slow and even, unchanged since she'd entered. Her face was slack, too, no smile hidden beneath the guise of feigned sleep.
Fleur frowned then. Hermione didn't appear to be pretending. "Hermione," she called, speaking a bit more loudly. "Wake up."
There was no change.
"Hermione," she called, swallowing past a lump in her throat. Dread filled her and she pressed her hand into Hermione's stomach. "Please. Wake up. You're scaring me."
Hermione slept on and Fleur's heart was gripped with panic. Her lover was not, in any way, cruel and would not carry on a joke if it bothered someone. Fleur lifted her hand, pressing her finger nail sharply. No response. She pulled the duvet down and pressed her knuckles into the skin over Hermione's breast bone, rubbing firmly for a moment or two. No response. She laid her thumb over her eyelid and lifted it gently. Nothing.
She drew her hands back, shaking violently. A scream welled up in her throat but she bit it back, knowing that she needed to act, rather than fall to pieces.
Something was dreadfully wrong.
Well. What do you think? Potential? Drop me a line, let me know!